Ocean Acidification Goes Beyond Damaging Shells

Written by on March 13, 2013 in Marine Life, Physical Oceanography
Mussels (mytilus trossulus) attach to substratum with byssal threads. Photo credit: Emily Carrington.

Mussels (mytilus trossulus) attach to substratum with byssal threads. Photo credit: Emily Carrington.

As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, ocean acidification continues to threaten marine life. New research from the University of Washington reveals that ocean acidification won’t only affect the shells of marine organisms.

Increasing acidity in the ocean makes it harder for organisms to build and maintain calcified parts. It affects many organisms like clams, mussels, and corals. This new study demonstrates that the threads that attach mussels to rocks, called byssal threads, will also weaken.

Mussels can be found on rocks, pilings and many other solid objects. They are capable of building new byssal threads throughout their lives, but as the ocean becomes more acidic, this will become more and more challenging.

The researchers found that in higher CO2 conditions, the common bay mussel (Mytilus trossulus) could be dislodged by forces 40 percent lower than mussels attached under current conditions. This is because the byssal threads become weaker and lose their ability to stretch as far.

In addition to altering ecosystems, this problem could also affect the aquaculture industry.

On the bright side, farmed mussels are listed as a ‘best choice’ option on Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide! And, it doesn’t matter where they are farmed because they are filter-feeders which means they don’t require any fishmeal and can actually improve local water quality. They also rarely develop diseases that would require antibiotics. So, eat up…while you can.

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Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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